Michigan’s 2012 battleground wars have begun

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Because of Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that eliminated disclosure laws and limits on much campaign spending, Republicans have an almost bottomless well of money to buy misleading TV attack ads from shady front groups with innocuous sounding names.

Well-organized people-to-people campaigns have shown, however, that such drives can be beaten. The goal for the next few months, then, should be to rebuild the coalition of communities and movements that brought Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.

The presidential election holds special implications for working families in Michigan. Michigan is a key state for the Electoral College vote tally. Barring a mathematical anomaly, no presidential candidate can lose Michigan and seriously expect to win the election.

In addition to the presidential election, the Republicans are targeting Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the state’s junior senator. In their quest for a filibuster-proof 60 votes, they need to unseat her.

Unfortunately for them, her popularity and leadership have proven to be a huge obstacle for even finding a worthy Republican opponent. After expressing some interest, several Republicans have dropped out. So far, tea party-type candidates seem most interested in sticking to it, making Stabenow’s reelection a stronger possibility.

In addition, only nine seats are needed to flip the state House of Representatives to Democratic control to check the current unfettered power of the GOP in the state. (Neither the governorship nor the state senate are up for election in 2012.)

That unchecked power includes Republican partisan control of the Michigan Supreme Court. Lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Republican governor’s undemocratic “emergency financial managers,” the power to nullify results of local elections and take over cities and towns, will likely be argued in the Supreme Court, and Republican judges will vote with their party. (It is important to note that Gov. Rick Snyder has only appointed “emergency managers” in localities with majority Democratic voters and African American populations.)

Unseating two Republican members of the court will also be an important line on the 2012 ballot.

Anxiety and hardship due to the economic crisis in Michigan and over-confidence about the 2008 election probably suppressed the vote here, leading to very odd electoral outcomes in 2010. One such outcome was the election of a far-right, libertarian tea party-type in the 3rd congressional district in western Michigan, Justin Amash.

Amash has proven the rule about the hard right: cut, cut, cut any and all government. He has plenty of money, plenty of power, so he could care less about Michigan working families.

Fortunately, his career in Congress could be kept short by his own far-right politics. He voted to kill Medicare, repeal health reform, to end funding for Planned Parenthood, to gut public education resources, and to raise taxes on small business owners. He favors more cuts to pay for more tax cuts for the rich.

His views are out of step with Michigan residents. For instance, though most voters in West Michigan want Congress to strengthen the hand of the Environmental Protection Agency, Amash joined with House Republicans to try to take away its power. He voted to protect Big Oil’s tax breaks.

Amash basically believes that the only thing government should do is the military – and most of that should also be privatized.

But the tide in Michigan is turning. People are fed up with the right-wing agenda. That isn’t what they voted for in 2010. They voted for a speedier economic recovery. Unfortunately, the Republicans are less interested in creating jobs than they are in limiting access to abortion, attacking gay people, and cutting resources for the poor, for public education, for healthcare, for Medicare and for Social Security.

People in Michigan are tired of the attacks on working families, on the right to organize unions, on public education, on health care, and on environmental protections.

Gov. Rick Snyder, in order to pay for a new round of corporate tax breaks, is proposing a cut of almost $500 per student for the state’s public schools. In a time when Michigan’s unemployment rate stands at over 10 percent, such a plan will only make things worse.

Tax breaks for big businesses have become so numerous under Republican governors – without a subsequent economic boost – that soon taxpayers will be giving them cash to be here.

Meanwhile, Snyder has proposed a new tax on pensions and the elimination of the state’s earned income tax credit for the poorest taxpayers.

Republican-controlled governments in Michigan cut taxes 32 times from the early 1990s to 2002 when Jennifer Granholm was elected.

The argument was that lower taxes would entice business growth and create jobs. Instead, Michigan suffers with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and a crumbling schools system.

The unemployment rate jumped to the highest in the country in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. It has fallen five points since the recovery act passed and the Obama administration-organized the auto bailout. No single Republican tax cuts, let alone all of them combined, has had a similar impact in this state.

Michigan residents are making a stand, however. Thousands descended on the capitol in April to demand an end to the Republican agenda.

This past weekend, several thousands, organized by the labor movement, gathered again to protest Snyder’s massive cuts to education.

A campaign is under way to recall Snyder. Hundreds of volunteers across the state are collecting the required 800,000 signatures to force another gubernatorial election.

Resisting Republican policies now is important, but because the GOP controls the state government, working families’ demands will likely go unheeded. Therefore, harnessing this anger to mobilize a big electoral victory in 2012, including the reelection of the president in 2012, a progressive majority in Congress, and key state and local level candidates and issues will be just as important.

Photo: The United Auto Workers Special Bargaining Convention, held here March 22-24, was three days of preparing the union to do battle with, and defeat, extremist Republicans and Wall Street. John Rummel/PW


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).